Impressions and Judgements

Anytime an impression comes into focus (an impression being anything from a random thought to a situation occurring right in front of you) it’s typically and quickly followed by a judgement about it.

For example:

Impression

-Random thought – I have a lot of chores to get done and not much time to do them 

Judgement

-My day is going to be so stressful, leading to feelings of frustration and anxiety 

Impression 

-Situation occurring right in front of you – Someone just cut me off on the highway 

Judgement

-This person is an asshole, I almost hit them, leading to feelings of resentment and possibly taking your emotions out on others because of it. 

What the Stoics taught was that these impressions are not good or bad, they just are.

They exist outside of us, they may knock at the door of our mind, but it’s ultimately on us to decide what they mean to us. We can actively choose to view them indifferently, as nothing more than a thought or situation coming into our awareness in real time. 

Marcus Aurelius once said, “The only thing that changes and stirs the mind is the mind, and when external objects are presented to it, it has them conform to the judgements that it deems itself justified in making about them.” 

A deep understanding of this can enable us to slowly weaken the detrimental impulse of judging each and every impression that we become mindful of. 

We can bend and reshape our perception of reality by starting to recognize the incoming impression and deciding that we don’t want to let this lead to negative emotions and feelings.

We can ask ourselves, “What is this impression of?”, and define or describe it so that it loses its power. 

If your judgement comes into play and you feel emotions arise, you can begin to see the story that your mind creates to justify the reaction. 

This mental chatter is normal, but it’s imperative to comprehend that you are not this bickering.

Detach from it and just observe the judgmental thoughts as if they were being projected on a screen in front of you. 

Each time a judgement about indifferent impressions comes to light, remind yourself as soon as you can that your chief aim is to live in a cheerful and peaceful state and that being caught up in these intruding mental objects prevents you from doing so. 

“The first thing is not to be carried away by the intensity of an impression. You should say: Hold on a moment, impression. Let me see what you are and what you are an impression of. Let me put you to the test.” – Epictetus

Moments for the last time

Take yourself back to a memory from years ago, something you cherished, that now looking back was the last time (or one of the last times) you had the pleasure to do it unbeknownst to you. 

We all have certain experiences for the final time. It could be spending a specific holiday with family before you moved away, a recent routine with a loved one that for whatever reason stopped or a childhood tradition with your parents or siblings that you simply grew out of as you got older. 

The sad part about these moments is that most of the time we don’t know when it’ll be the final opportunity we get to experience them. 

One day they are just gone forever. 

But imagine being able to go back to a “last time memory” and relive it with the knowledge that this was the final time. 

Think about the presence you’d have during those precious seconds and how unimportant life’s plethora of petty distractions would be. 

Try to envision the abundance of appreciation you’d feel for this invaluable time being spent, knowing you’re making the absolute most of this final moment. 

There’s nothing stopping you from applying this last time concept into your life. 

It’s a certainty that many more moments will be the final one that you get to enjoy doing something, regardless of how big or small it may be.

Make sure you have the mindfulness to remind yourself throughout your day that any experience could be the last one and let that increase your capacity to savor and be thankful for them with all of your heart. 

Below is a poem I wrote that relates to the topic.

You gotta appreciate,

You cannot wait.

Cause you never know,

When it’ll be your time to go.

You gotta learn to love,

Just look at the stars above,

There’s a reason we’re all here.

The time will come,

As you grow old,

When it’ll be the last one,

Yet you’ll have a fulfilled soul.

Because you learned how

To be thankful for the now. 

The Calm and Kind Approach

Life is filled with inconveniences, unnecessary annoyances and delays that disrupt our peace of mind and put us in a bad mood.

And when it comes to people, we typically lash out and use them as punching bags when things aren’t going the way we believe they should.

We’ve all been there…it’s normal and human. 

But instead of instinctively reacting with anger and frustration, which not only leads us down a negative path that day but also strengthens the habit of repeating this reaction in the future, wouldn’t it be much more pleasant to respond calmly and kindly? 

And I’m not necessarily saying to just be passive and let others walk all over you, but more so just approach each situation from a composed perspective. 

When we are pissed off our emotions get in the way and take charge, typically ending with us regretting saying or doing something. 

On the other hand, when we are calm we can visually and mentally see with more clarity. And when we have a better view of a circumstance, we have higher odds of controlling our responses in a productive manner.

There are endless variables in life that are out of our control, they always have been and they always will be. You can continue to subconsciously meet them with resistance and fill your existence with suffering or you can consciously choose to calmly greet them with kindness and understanding. 

The sooner you’re able to accept this indisputable point on the dichotomy of control, the quicker you can begin to focus your energy on what is in your control, such as your character, your perspective and how you choose to respond to the events that present themselves.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius 

Putting Perception into Question

Our species is blessed with the fascinating intricacies of the mind. 

Humans are capable of incredible feats and possess vast potential that most of us never tap into even a fraction of. 

Regardless of what you pursue in your life, we all (at least most of us) deserve to live with an abundance of joy and love in our hearts.

Yet, even with this incredible and unfathomable brain of ours, whether we achieve tremendous heights professionally or not, many of us live with a persistent sense of fear, agitation, dissatisfaction, worry or doubt. 

Why is this? 

And more importantly, how do we overcome it so that we can bathe in a life overflowed with contentment and peace? 

This can be achieved by putting our perceptions into question. 

Built up over the course of a lifetime, most of the day is spent pre-programmed by our deeply rooted habits. 

We tend to live on auto-pilot, allowing our mind to be the one in the driver’s seat, thinking, acting and reacting just as it has always done so.

And as the saying goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always been getting. 

A vicious cycle indeed.

But, it’s possible to observe and be a witness to the daily thoughts in our head, as well as the emotions we feel from those thoughts and the actions that typically follow them.

No other living thing (as far as we know) is capable of this ability to not just think, but be aware of the thought as you do so. 

With this in mind, we can learn to not only become more aware of the circumstances that bring us negative emotions, but begin to analyze why they do so. 

This enables you to monitor the rampant thoughts that have previously gone unmonitored and typically led to the feelings you don’t want to feel. 

By questioning why you are perceiving a situation in a certain way, you are accessing a level of consciousness that has rarely, if ever, been utilized before. 

Understanding that our thoughts and views are pliable and can be molded to best serve us is wisdom. 

And making the choice to put in the effort to adjust our perceptions so that we can minimize negativity and enhance positivity is what the wise do. 

In this realm of mindfulness, favorable change can be made that will last a lifetime. 

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” – Epictetus

Three Stoic Pillars to Living the Good Life

If you take the time to really break down what is involved in living the good life, you’ll discover that there are only a few principles that you have to strictly adhere to.

Awareness. Acceptance. Appreciation. 

Awareness

There’s no way around it, if you want to live a joyful life you must become aware of how you currently live your life. 

How do you go about your daily operations, what do you think in your head, what actions do you take, how do you respond to external events, etc?

In order to improve your life you need to improve your ability to objectively observe your life.

Think of it like a third party observer within your head, a spectator, one that doesn’t judge harshly or criticize but simply watches, observes and witnesses the movie unrolling of you living your life. 

Throughout each day bring attention to what is going on in your mind and mindfully ask if it aligns with the kind of thoughts your ideal self would be thinking. Repeat the process for the way you act and react in social settings with those you care about. 

Are you allowing your impulses to steer the wheel and do as they please, or are you carefully considering your options to ensure you select the right one? 

We cannot control what happens externally in life (the upcoming pillar), but we have, if we intentionally decide to use it, full control over how we choose to perceive what does happen. 

If we make it a habit to view things from a perspective that minimizes negativity and enhances positivity, despite whatever circumstance we may find ourselves in, then we are on the path to living the good life. 

“It is not external events themselves that cause us distress, but the way in which we think about them, our interpretation of their significance. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” – Epictetus

Acceptance

Similar to the serenity prayer, we have to constantly remind ourselves of what is in our control and what isn’t.

Obsessing over what is out of our hands is a recipe for a miserable existence. And if you become more aware of your daily mental processes and still continue to focus on what is out of your control, then you’re intentionally self sabotaging and preventing yourself from a much happier life. 

By shifting our attention to doing our absolute best in regards to the things in our control while simultaneously working to accept the things that we cannot change, we can start to pave a route towards living in a much brighter atmosphere and begin to minimize the perceived pain and suffering we’ve unconsciously and unnecessarily been causing ourselves. 

What is in our control:

-being more mindful of our thoughts, actions and responses to external events

-choosing to be kinder to ourselves and others despite the situation

-not believing each and every one of our thoughts to always be accurate

-deciding to no longer dwell on the past or stress about the future but rather live in the present

-accepting that whatever happens externally is out of our hands and that we can choose to live a happy life even through inevitable and difficult times

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it— not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” – Marcus Aurelius 

Appreciation

We are all going to die. 

Some much sooner than others, but the fact still remains that we will depart from this world. 

Just think about how many people have passed since you’ve been born, especially those born after you.  

Nothing lasts forever, both the good and the bad. 

So when the bad times do come, which they will, we can build an impenetrable fortress of gratitude deep within ourselves that enables us to tend to our wounds but still feel immense appreciation for all that still is in our lives. 

And when the good times are here, we must make it a habit to focus on fully appreciating them without spending time wishing for what we don’t have.

Epictetus once said that we must take great care with what we have while the world let’s us have it. 

We all have a great deal to be thankful for in our lives, so much we were provided with at birth, for free, that we literally couldn’t live without. 

If we make it our main objective to live each and every day with appreciation at the top of our mind we will ensure ourselves a fast pass to living the good life. 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Turning a negative emotion into a positive one

Our impulses are potent. 

They’ve been hardwired into our brain through repetition over the course of many years. 

Some impulses are beneficial to our survival while plenty of others cause us unnecessary distress. 

When we are stressed out or angry about the million and one little things going on in our life, we release a stress hormone called cortisol. In this flight or fight mode our body literally shuts down our immune system. 

And when we are in this state of emotion often enough, our body weakens and we often get tired and ill because energy is no longer being conserved for the immune system but rather sending resources to focus on the anxiety that is occurring in our life. 

Interesting fact: Stress hormones like Cortisol are so effective at shutting down the immune system that doctors inject it into people receiving organ transplants. This literally prevents the immune system from doing its job of fighting and rejecting the foreign object. 

To make matters worse, each time we get into these stressful states of mind we shut down our brain’s ability to see and think clearly while unconsciously reinforcing the bad habit that led to us building up the tension to begin with.

Suffice to say, these negative emotions are extremely detrimental to both our physical and mental well-being. 

If your life isn’t in immediate danger, continuing to live at these elevated levels of stress that’s all too common in today’s world is a sure fire way to reduce your lifespan. 

But enough with the negativity! 

It’s time to focus on confronting the negative with the positive.

The next time you find yourself starting to get worked up, possibly by recognizing the tension in your body or by certain thoughts you begin telling yourself, try to take a step back and breathe for just a quick second or two. 

Become aware of the big picture and ask yourself questions such as: 

How can I take care of myself right now? 

What would be the best thing to focus my attention on?

Is this situation worth harming my body and mind for? 

Can I replace this emotion of frustration with a positive one like compassion? 

It certainly won’t be easy and it’s a guarantee that there will be moments where your old triggers override your reasoning, but with practice you can begin to minimize the damage that would typically turn into a blown out stressfest. 

Even better, the habit of impulsive reactions will naturally weaken over time while the new and more positive patterns will consume more attention, leading to a better quality of life. 

“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running . . . therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead. The same principle is at work in our state of mind. When you get angry, you’ve not only experienced that evil, but you’ve also reinforced a bad habit, adding fuel to the fire.” – Epictetus 

Living on borrowed time

Just as we were somehow granted life, some day we will have to return it.

Our existence is based on borrowed time.

Let that soak in for a moment and don’t try to dismiss it. 

We are living on borrowed time and a period will come when it’ll have to be given back. 

Amongst all of the cares and concerns that fill up our daily lives, the fact remains that it’ll cease to exist at some point. 

Poof, into thin air. 

We all have our own struggles to deal with, some certainly worse than others. But identifying ourselves from a filter through them is optional. 

It’s up to us to choose how we perceive the ups and downs as well as how much of our limited time we want to spend being consumed by what is or could go wrong. 

In the end, what can really be worse than ceasing to exist?

Practice taking a mental step back every so often. 

From this perspective try to discard the trivial and focus on what truly matters. 

Learn to accept what isn’t in your control and do your best to work on what is in your power. 

Each and every day, appreciate the seconds that you have while you still have them with whomever you have them with. 

Time is ticking. 

“Keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might have to give it back at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius

The Streetlight Effect: Why we look in the wrong places for what we truly want

There’s a parable that goes a little something like this…

A man is out walking the street at night and sees another man searching for something on the ground. He goes up to the person and asks him what he’s looking for. 

The man responds that he has lost his keys. 

So they both go on their hands and knees looking for the lost keys. 

After some time, the man who offered to help asks the other man, “Where exactly do you remember losing your keys?” 

The man responds, “In my house.” 

Confused, the other man asks, “Then why are you looking here for them?”

He replies, “Because the lighting is much better out here.” 

This concept is known as the streetlight effect and draws parallels with our own lives in our perpetual quest for happiness. 

We tend to look externally for what we want because it’s the easier route to attaining truth, rather than taking the more difficult road internally where truth actually exists.

Our mental wiring is flawed, as you simply cannot seek something where it doesn’t exist, despite how easy or difficult the path may be. 

The keys that the man lost inside his home will never be found outside under the streetlight just like you will never find lasting happiness, peace and/or fulfillment outside of yourself.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Most of us know viscerally that money, success and social status are not the answer to our every problem and need, so what gives?

Is it the result of self-sabotage? Fear? Stupidity? Laziness?

It certainly takes hard work and effort to explore the inner depths of our being, to learn the ways of our mind and leverage that understanding to our advantage. 

But where’s the evidence proving that we don’t have “god”, the universe, infinite cosmic intelligence or whatever you want to call it, within us, and that the multitude of us are simply too blind and fearful to put in the reps to access and tap into it? (the human brain has been evolving for millions of years, we just might have a lot more potential than we give ourselves credit for in today’s society.) 

Wouldn’t feeling just 10% of what we truly seek throughout a lifetime beat out feeling none of it at all, or just fleeting glimpses of it? 

Most of us are playing a rigged game, one that we have allowed ourselves to fall into and accept as the only option to achieve a sense of prosperity in our lives. 

Fortunately, there is a way out of this warped thinking and that’s through within. 

Once you start to focus on the inner world and become more aware, loving and kinder towards yourself, you won’t need any additional motivation or willpower to further the momentum of enhancing the quality of your life. It will happen organically and become as natural to you as walking while talking. 

Armed with this knowledge, ask yourself this question: 

How will my decision to willingly NOT pursue the internal path impact the rest of my life and all those I love and care about? 

“It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Applying the method of Inversion to ensure a happy life

Most of us wander through life applying the same run down approach toward achieving happiness. We seek recognition, praise, money and more possessions in hopes that they will bring us contentment.

But even if we achieve them (all of the honor, accolades, mansions and millions of dollars in the bank account) unfortunately they still won’t provide us with the feeling of inner joy that we long for. 

It’s true that they may boost our confidence, ego and eliminate money problems, but we’ll still be the same person more or less that we are now (along with a whole new set of problems to deal with).

So what then you might ask, can one do to actually attain what we truly want?

A highly effective technique that can be applied is called inversion.

Billionaire investor Charlie Munger (business partner of Warren Buffet) once said, “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent… Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward” 

By applying this concept, instead of thinking of how you can become happier, the inverse question would be something along the lines of how can I ensure I’ll live an unhappy life

When you take this approach you’ll be surprised at what answers you come up with, and don’t be shocked if some or even most of them are things that you currently do in your life. 

These are hard and indisputable truths that we must accept and work on eliminating or improving, and are what can lead us to the promised land.

So what exactly would guarantee one to live an unhappy life?

Off the top of my head, I’ve listed a handful below. 

Not having quality and deeply meaningful relationships.

Focusing on what other people say, do and think, feeling envious often and constantly comparing yourself to them.

Not putting time and effort into improving yourself both mentally and physically.

Not appreciating everything that you have and realizing how quickly it can all be taken away.

Not pursuing your passions/interests that will bring you fulfillment.

Always looking for more and never being content with what you already have.

Not giving yourself enough love and care, or being humble and proud of yourself for your life.

When we focus on the inversion method we view things from a new perspective, one that can enable us to see the truth and start taking actionable steps towards ensuring that we gain an unwavering and deep sense of joy before life passes us by. 

It’s by finding ways to prevent ourselves from living an unhappy existence that results in a life we can be happy, satisfied and proud of living.

“What a man is contributes much more to his happiness than what he has.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

How learning to want what you already have can transform your life

When you learn to want what you already have instead of focusing on attaining the things you don’t have, a sense of permanent satisfaction for your life can be obtained.

When this invaluable life skill is added to one’s arsenal, the true value of what we do have in life is clearly acknowledged, and it makes us realize with full awareness that they aren’t ours forever and can be taken away in an instant.

This knowledge enriches all of life’s experiences and the feelings that derive from recognizing each enriched experience is what we call being fulfilled. 

Ultimately, we all innately strive to live fulfilling lives. 

This leads us to the question: 

How exactly do we go about learning to want what we already have while not focusing on what we don’t have, so that we can achieve a sense of fulfillment?

Gratitude is the answer. 

By planting seeds of reminders to repeatedly focus your attention on what in your life you’re thankful for, a habit can form. 

This habit then begins to work in the background of your life, (through a network of neurons located in the brainstem called the Reticular Activating System, which filters out unnecessary information so that it can focus on bringing in more important information) unconsciously searching for references of what else can be brought into your conscious awareness to start appreciating more. 

Every time a brief conscious recognition of gratitude occurs for even the smallest thing, positive feelings are expressed from within, bringing you joy and happiness in that present moment. 

These emotions stay with you long after you knowingly realize and with consistency, they start to impact the wiring of your brain. 

This process, known as neuroplasticity, reprograms neural connections inside your brain, which in return leads to directly influencing your thoughts as well as your perceptions and how you understand things and give meaning to them.  

Through repetition over time, your subconscious will feed you new things to appreciate and different ways to be thankful for what you have, leading to a literal transformation in your brain and as a result, in your life. 

Makes you want to start practicing gratitude a bit more in your life, huh? 

Spending copious amounts of time mindlessly comparing ourselves to others and thinking about what they have that we don’t is a suckers game that provides us with no value and only brings rise to negative emotions. 

It’s when we focus our attention and thoughts toward the abundance of what we do have in this world that we begin to appreciate what’s most precious and priceless to us in the present moment. 

The garden of the soul lives in the now, where beautifully vibrant flowers of joy, peace and satisfaction are constantly springing about and flourishing. 

A sense of perpetual fulfillment in each moment is yours for the taking. 

Capture it through the practice of gratitude. 

Treat what you don’t have as non-existent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you’d crave them if you didn’t have them.” – Marcus Aurelius